Many clients come in to therapy telling me that they don’t feel happy or fulfilled in their relationship. Instead of being excited to be with their partner, they feel stuck, bored, and trapped. When we discuss the idea of leaving, though, many of these clients feel anxious or outright terrified at the prospect.
Why do people settle for less in relationships? Why do they end up stuck in loveless or conflicted relationships, feeling like there’s no way out? And how can you know if you’re settling for less in your own relationship?
Fear’s Effect on Relationship Inertia
The main reason that people settle within relationships is fear. There are many different ways that this fear can be expressed, including:
- Fear of the unknown
- Fear of being alone
- Fear of hurting your partner by leaving
- Fear of what people will think if you break up
- Fear of a financial or lifestyle change that would accompany a breakup
- Fear of not finding a better partner if you leave
- Fear that your partner is the only one who would find you lovable
All of these fears, and others, can paralyze people and prevent them from even entertaining the idea of leaving their partners.
Low Self-Esteem’s Role in Settling for Less
One major contributor to this list of fears is low self-esteem. If you doubt your own self-worth, then it is easy to assume that you will never find another partner, and that nobody will ever come along who will tolerate you, nevermind cherish you.
Feelings of inferiority and inadequacy can therefore lead to staying with your current partner, despite knowing in your heart that it’s a bad fit. Working on your own feelings of self-worth can help you move forward in a positive direction.
Seeking Others’ Approval
The fear of changing your life, or the image of your life that others see, is also important to tackle. Many of us were raised to be “good” and to try to fit in at all costs. Breaking up or divorcing when others may disapprove of this choice can be very difficult if you have always tried to gain others’ approval.
Working on your desire to please others can be instrumental in allowing you the space to decide whether staying in your relationship is the right choice.
Your Past’s Role in the Present
One reason that people allow fear to prevent them from moving on is rooted in their past. If you were raised by parents who did not love each other but remained together out of fear or inertia, then you may subconsciously associate marriage — or a long term relationship — with feelings of bitterness, sadness, or feeling stuck.
If you recognize that your parents did not divorce out of fear, then you may also not divorce, or not break up, because you think that it would be overwhelmingly difficult and would destroy you emotionally.
You Should Never Have to “Settle”
If you feel like you may be settling, and this thought nags at you no matter how you try to push it to the back of your mind, therapy can help you clarify your feelings and decide how to proceed. It may be that your partner is not the issue, and your view of relationships is skewed, from your upbringing or relationship history. Or it may be that you are not meant to be in your current relationship, but you can’t leave because you are trapped in the quicksand of fear and doubt.
Don’t let fear hold you back from figuring out whether you would be happier alone or with a different partner, however. You only have one life, and you owe it to yourself to strive toward happiness and fulfillment.
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